Hunter ed changes a cause for concern

A press release from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s press office hit the in box of my email – “DEC Announces Zero Hunting Fatalities in 2015 Season.” Great news! Last year there were 23 hunting accidents, 10 of which were self-inflicted. It was the third lowest total on record. Still, DEC has implemented some changes to the way hunter safety courses are taken in 2016 and there are many out there who feel this is the wrong move.

Any prospective hunter is required to take (and pass) a hunter safety training class before they can head afield. The firearms class is a minimum of 10 hours; the archery class is eight hours. You must attend both if you are only archery hunting. Yes, it’s a commitment but it’s one of the big reasons why the program has a proven track record when it comes to safety numbers in the field. The past five-year average is four incidents per 100,000 hunters. In the 1960s the rate was 19 incidents per 100,000 hunters. That’s quite a difference.

Starting this year, all hunter safety training will require that students do some homework before they even set foot into a classroom. While the requirement that you must register online is circulating around the state, the reality is that some hunter safety instructors still do it the old-fashioned way – like pre-registering by phone. However, that doesn’t exempt you from the homework. Proof of the completed homework must be shown to the course instructor before you enter. If not, you will be turned away. Yes, turned away. Dale Dunkelberger of Lockport, a master Instructor in Niagara County, was up in arms over the new changes and he really feels that it will impact the numbers of people going through the classes. There are two ways that you can do the homework: complete the work online for free through the DEC website, or take a complete online course which will cost you $24.50. At this time, the homework doesn’t shorten the course at all – you still have to attend the full shot.

“One of the instructors I work with took the four-page test himself, looking up the information on the 80-plus page manual on the internet,” said Dunkelberger while on a local radio talk show at WLVL Lockport in March. “It took him four hours to complete the work! What about someone who is not familiar with this material? Are they going to get frustrated and give up with no one to ask questions of? And what are the people going to do if they don’t have Internet access at home? I think we are headed down the wrong road.”

That makes sense. Maybe they should have implemented a test study in a county or two first before they implemented the new program statewide. If this discourages one youngster from becoming a hunter, that will be too many. That doesn’t even take into consideration the older generation that decides they want to take the sport up because of a latent desire or opportunity. Teaching an older dog a new trick isn’t the best approach to recruiting new hunters into the ranks…online, no less.

Which leads to another point: We know that some of the safest hunters in the woods are the junior hunters. Most of the incidents reported are by the longtime hunter who might get a little sloppy in their ways. Maybe it’s time to initiate a refresher course for veteran nimrods who could use a little brush-up on firearms and bowhunting safety. Dunkelberger agrees: “Every one of the accidents that occurred in 2015 could have been avoided,” he insisted. “Let’s come up with something that makes things safer for everyone in the fields and forests of New York.”

Kudos go out to the volunteer instructors across the state who give their time to training the next generation of our hunting fraternity. They do a great job! We need to listen to their input and make things as simple as possible without compromising the success of the safety program overall. 

In the meantime, we’re stuck with the new program. How they plan on evaluating the success (or the failure) of the program will be difficult. At a time when hunter recruitment is critical, let’s hope it isn’t as bad as what many people think it will be. We shouldn’t have to be worrying about keeping our fingers crossed for a possible solution to the problem. Communications continues to be an issue. How did I find out about the new initiatives for this year? I stumbled across them while navigating the DEC website. We need to do better than that. 

Categories: Import, New York – Bill Hilts Jr, Social Media

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